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Doughnuts in an inflation era: Which is really worth your shekels?

Our annual sufganiya hunt was hit by the cost of living increases, but we soldiered on, through 45 confections of sweet filling and dough, to find the very best
It's our favorite time of year, clearly. Image posted with teen permission in exchange for... you guessed it... extra doughnuts.
It's our favorite day of the year, clearly. (courtesy)

We were nine tasters strong this year, for 45 sufganiyot, and after 12 years of our tradition (the kids honestly don’t remember a time when we didn’t do it), we realized that some of our staff members are less mobile than they used to be, making the two-hour stroll potentially challenging. Therefore, since the integrity of our original tasting team is critical, we decided to cut the walking time, recruit new bakeries, and collect sufganiyot from several locations outside the shuk, performing the first half of our duty sitting down. Respect for the elder generation coupled with festive gluttony of the highest order is indeed possible.

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A few notes on this year’s offerings

First, it must be announced that at least one of us finally dressed appropriately this year, according to my 17-year-old. While all of our kids greatly anticipate the Big Day, she took it one step further.

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Notice the socks. Now that’s dedication.

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Second, it should be recognized that we intentionally excluded Roladin this year because their prices have shot up by 20 percent, placing their sufganiyot in the 14-16 NIS ($4.00-$4.58) range. Everyone is feeling the inflation pinch, us included, and given my socialist roots, I consciously make a statement with my cash. I’ll pay top dollar (or shekel) when I feel it’s worthwhile, but a doughnut for nearly $5 outside Manhattan? Roladin, we canceled you.

Given our goal of remaining in the black (two salaries, four kids and a mortgage in one of the most expensive countries in the world make us budget-conscious), we will include sufganiya prices in the round-up for the first time ever.

Enough! Where’s the “jump to recipe” button? I will cease regaling you with tales before I give you the goods:

Pat BaMelach

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Since its debut in our tour (circa 2019), Pat BaMelach has consistently come out product-strong, but techie-weak, which we forgive, because we prefer taste over process. I’m also a sucker for attractive packaging, and Pat BaMelach always delivers on that front. Over COVID, however, like so many other consumers, I cultivated a strong appreciation for touchless pickup and delivery.

Click click, buy buy, have have.
No people, invoice, complication, interaction.

For three years running, I’ve tried to achieve the touchless pickup goal via Pat BaMelach’s (previously buggy) online system, and this year, they unlocked the ninja level. I ordered online that same morning, walked in during my pre-selected pickup hour, and my boxes awaited me at the door. Bliss.

This trust-based pickup system, which I’ve seen in other places as well, intrigued my eldest, who immediately raised one eyebrow (the way those born here seem to be able to do inherently, like the head-to-the-shoulder “don’t want” mannerism Israelis often retain through adulthood). She then narrowed her eyes, her face disturbingly Fagin-like, and asked what stops people from walking in, taking boxes, and then returning 10 minutes later, feigning a missing order, only to have it ultimately filled twice? TRUST, baby. And proof that Efrat is not filled with thieving doughnut-hounds.

Pricing:
Traditional jelly 9 NIS
Fancy 12-14 NIS

While more costly than any other bakery we included, therefore producing a kneejerk “We’re not going to be friars – maybe we ought to boycott” reaction, I’m glad we didn’t.

Truly the pinnacle of value, they offered not only a successfully seamless order/pickup process, but they triumphed with delectable confections, producing not only this year’s Fancy Category Winner, but two honorable mentions as well.

Although it was close, this year’s winner in the fancy category is Pat BaMelach’s Chocolate Chocolate, and lo and behold, it’s pareve.

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We reached filling in the first bite (nice ratio) and, considering my crew is no longer toddler-based, its bittersweet, sophisticated flavor was almost universally lauded. We pronounced it “most like Krispy Kreme.”

Honorable mentions include the delightful Lemon Meringue (not pictured; it went too fast), because beyond the adults embracing it, our 14-year-old, generally a purist and tried and true chocoholic, not only indulged but appreciated the lemon. In addition, we must mention their traditional jelly version, which, while not this year’s winner in the jelly category, was the decided runner-up due to the quality of the jelly. Literally three times the price of the average jelly doughnut in the shuk, the jelly is at least four times as good as most. Warning for traditionalists like my youngest: Pat BaMelach’s jelly boasts seeds, as in, it is actually composed of raspberries that you can see and taste. The young’un disapproved.

Burekas Ima

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While we’ve never before included Burekas Ima’s sufganiyot, someone said they were great, and we are open-minded people (okay, we’re easily tempted), so although we despise Talpiyot traffic, this was in the name of science, so we braved it.

Meh.

Pricing:

Traditional jelly 6 NIS
Fancy 8 NIS

We tried their Mekupelet version, but the filling was simple whipped cream (not custard), so it didn’t offer sufficient presence. We found the topping needlessly over-sweet. We also auditioned the dark chocolate version, which was sorely disappointing. The filling was reminiscent of Shahar chocolate spread, which obviously goes better in a pita. Moving on to their vanilla-filled, we did not taste filling in the first bite (always a ratings killer), but in addition, the pudding inside screamed “industrial sized vat of pudding at a suburban middle school” or “Hunt’s pudding packs we brought on a road trip.” Next year, we’ll ignore the competition and go with our gut.

Cafe Neeman

Since we are of the “im kvar, az kvar” mindset (basically: if we’re already doing it, let’s do it!), and we were already in Talpiyot, why not stop at Tzomet Oranim where there’s a bakery hidden behind a gas station? There are (successful) restaurants all over Jerusalem behind and adjacent to gas stations — which never ceases to amaze me — so if none of the other Israelis do, why let the stench of fresh petrol stop us from enjoying? In we marched and found what appeared to be cheaper, potentially parody-like versions of Roladin’s famous brightly colored, injected confections.

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Pricing:

Traditional jelly 5 NIS
Fancy 11 NIS

Significantly less cost-prohibitive than Roladin, we were intrigued by these lookalikes, since similar to so many around us, we are attracted to shiny objects.

Alas, you get what you pay for.

While alluring cosmetically, the Valentine’s-looking-sufganiya offered no filling in the first bite, and the situation got more outrageous when 75% of the way through, we realized that the tiny spot of chocolate inside, once reached, wasn’t even tasty. The one with the tower in the middle was halvah, but it was kind of wet (not juicy, but rather damp), which we found displeasing.

We pass on Neeman in its entirety.

English Cake

English Cake has produced winners in years past, so after suffering two mediocre vendors, we descended upon English Cake with hopeful anticipation. When it comes to an attractive, enticing display, English Cake never disappoints.

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Pricing:

Traditional jelly 6 NIS
Fancy 10 NIS

Smack dab in the middle of the price range (think Honda Accord), English Cake offered airier dough than we had found up until this point on the tour, and earned points because of it… but not enough to topple the winners. Producing two honorable mentions, English Cake can hold its head high this year.

I was very impressed with their Napoleon since the whipped cream was fresh and not so sweet I had to screw up my face with disdain. That said, even better were their Milky and Ferrero Rocher, which I cannot pronounce correctly to save my life.

The Milky places as First Runner-up in the Fancy category, since it’s basically a Boston Creme but with chocolate custard, and the custard is really custard, not some sub-par imitation. The Ferrro Rocher has an exquisite little golden disk adorning it, which, at 10 NIS, offers incredible value.

If you’re looking for the Accord of sufganiyot — dependable, economical, and good enough but not the best, English Cake ought to be your choice this year.

Achim Chaba

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Oh, Traditional Jelly King of the Past, the Achim Chaba were not in the mood this year. Finally, they have a sign, but obviously, because they’re vague and mysterious, it says “sabich” rather than “bakery.” They weren’t selling sabich, and the only sufganiyot they had available were the antichrist themselves: empty.

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This guy (one of the achim?) was intensely uninterested in our sufganiya search, and waved us away unceremoniously.

Duvshanit

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Into the open road of the shuk we dove, wading through throngs of shoppers and attempting to determine our next location while shouting to each other over the constant stream of BANANA BANANA BANANA BEST BANANA. Although tarnished, modest, and nearly covered by a pile of bags, we recognized the Duvshanit logo: 2018’s Traditional Jelly Winner. We were game.

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Pricing:

Traditional jelly 6 NIS
Fancy: not applicable; if you are pretentious enough to ask for one, they might not sell you anything at all

The second we bit into Duvshanit’s offering, we knew we had this year’s Traditional Jelly Winner in the bag. They had the best dough all day. The best dough all year. This dough is fresh, light, scrumptious and embodies exactly what traditional sufganiya dough is meant to be. Not only is the dough divine, the dough-to-jelly ratio is ideal. And these sufganiyot are big, so that’s not an easy balance. We had high-quality jelly in every bite from the first to the last.

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At nearly the bottom of the price range, you cannot possibly do better than Duvshanit! Their volume and turnover dictates near perma-freshness, and the proprietor serves a smile with every single one.

Marzipan

Absolutely mobbed with English speakers, Marzipan was the only bakery with a long line out the door. Traditionalists at heart (we tried one year to purchase sufganiyot from them two days before Chanukah, and they sneered and told us that sufganiyot would be available on the first night, and not before) they, too, aren’t offering fancy options this year: it’s jelly or nothing.

Pricing:

Traditional jelly 3 NIS
Fancy: none to be seen

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The most economical sufganiya we saw all day. Sadly, you’d have to eat at least two of them to get the equivalent volume of jelly in one of Duvshanit’s. Marzipan goes heavy on the powdered sugar, and the dough is delectably sweet and light. The jelly itself, however, while several levels up from years past, is just too minimal to tip the scales. Even at 3 NIS, cough up another three for Duvshanit; it’s worth it.

Berman’s

While Berman’s got a makeover, and the sales space is much sleeker and more functional, their sufganiyot took two steps back. They looked a day old, and while we weren’t tempted or even eager, for consistency’s sake (and for science!), we gave it a shot.

Pricing:

Traditional jelly 6 NIS
Fancy: we didn’t even ask; didn’t want them

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They are supermarket sufganiyot. They don’t just look stale; they taste stale. The dough to filling ratio is abominable. Berman’s, you’re on probation.

Results in case you need them fast

If you are on your way to Friday shopping, and you need the breakdown immediately, here you go:

Winner of the Traditional Jelly category: Duvshanit
Winner of the Fancy Category: Pat BaMelach’s Chocolate Chocolate

Honorable Mentions:
Pat BaMelach’s Lemon Meringue
Pat BaMelach’s Traditional Jelly
English Cake’s Milky
English Cake’s Ferrero Rocher

From our family to yours, Happy Chanukah, and here’s hoping you have nothing but sweetness and a solid dough/filling ratio this year!

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